The Willow and the Urn

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

IN

memory of

Mrs. MARTHA

CALLAWAY

wife of

BENJ. F. CALLAWAY

who died Jan. 22, 1845

aged 22 years 11 months

& 26 days

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According to James Deetz and Edwin S. Dethlefsen, in their groundbreaking article, “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow” the willow first made its appearance in cemeteries in the early 18th century.  The motif represented a break from the stark and cold reminders that death would bring that the Puritans carved into their gravestones—flying death’s heads, skulls and crossbones, and gravedigger’s equipment. In addition to the grim reminders of the inevitability of death Puritan gravestones often accompanied the haunting imagery with blunt words such as, “Here lies the body.” Nothing subtle there. The willow and the urn, however, represented a more sentimental view of death. There was a softening of Puritan views during the Great Awakening and the beginning of the Romantic Era.

Often the willow and urn is accompanied with words like, “In memory of” or “Sacred to the memory of”. This represented a softer approach. Like many symbols found in the cemetery, they can have multiple meanings, or there can be disagreement about the meaning of the motif—the Willow and urn is no exception. Christians saw the ability of the tree to live seemingly no matter how many of the branches were cut from the tree as a symbol of immortality. Others, however, suggest that the willow and urn predate Christianity to Roman times. The urn was used by Romans to store cremated remains and the willow was associated with the Persephone, the goddess of the underworld. Combined they represent the soul’s journey from the Earthly Realm to the Heavenly Realm. This design coincided with a neo-classical revival that took place mid-18th Century in America.

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

Crown Hill Cemetery, Salem, Indiana

IN MEMORY OF A MOTHER

MARY MARTHA PUMMER

WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE

DEC. 23, 1826

AGED 63

SHE LONG LIVED AND DIED

A FIRM BELIEVER IN CHRIST.

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